Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals & Natural Health Products

Vitamins & Minerals

Vitamins are organic substances, which means they come from living sources—plants and animals— and each vitamin has a special role to play in keeping our bodies healthy. Some vitamins are water-soluble (vitamins C and the B complex vitamins), and others are fat-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K). Water-soluble vitamins are readily absorbed by the body, and any of these vitamins that is taken in and not used right away is quickly excreted in the urine. That means we must get a fresh supply of these vitamins regularly. Fat-soluble vitamins are dissolved in fats. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, excess amounts of fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body and can reach toxic levels. Some vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, and E, are referred to as antioxidants. Antioxidants may prevent or delay some types of cell damage, and they have been credited with many health benefits. Minerals are inorganic substances found in water and soil. Our bodies need more of some minerals (such as calcium, sodium, and potassium) but only very small amounts of others (including copper, iodine, and zinc).

The following below explains some of the ways vitamins and minerals work to keep our bodies healthy and functioning properly:


Vitamin A (retinol)
• Protects the eye; necessary for vision
• Helps keep skin, tissues, bones, and immune system healthy

Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
• Converts food to energy
• Needed for healthy blood, brain, skin, hair, muscles, brain, and nerve function

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
• Converts food to energy
• Needed for healthy blood, brain, skin, and hair

Vitamin B3
(niacin, nicotinic acid)
• Converts food to energy
• Needed for healthy blood cells, skin, brain, and nerve function

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
• Converts food to energy
• Helps make necessary body substances: lipids (fats), neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, and hemoglobin

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
• May reduce the risk of heart disease
• Helps regulate sleep, appetite, and mood
• Needed for making blood cells
• Influences immune system and cognitive ability

Vitamin B7 (biotin)
• Converts food to energy
• Needed for healthy hair and nails
• Supports a healthy pregnancy
• Helps manage blood glucose (sugar) levels

Vitamin B9 (folic acid, folate, folacin)
• Vital for creating new cells
• Helps prevent brain and spine birth defects when taken early in pregnancy
• May reduce risk for heart disease, colon cancer, and breast cancer

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
• May lower risk of heart disease
• Helps make new cells
• Protects nerve cells

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
• Protects against cell damage
• Lowers the risk of some cancers
• Strengthens the immune system
• Helps make collagen (necessary for wound healing)
• Long-term use of supplemental vitamin C may protect against cataracts

Vitamin D (calciferol)
• Helps strengthen bones and teeth
• Supplements may reduce non-spinal fractures

Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol)
• Protects against cell damage
• Protects vitamin A and certain lipids (fats) from damage
• Diets rich in vitamin E may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease

Vitamin K (phylloquinone)
• Necessary for blood clotting
• May help prevent fractures


• Builds and protects bones and teeth
• Needed for muscle control, blood clotting, nerve transmission, activating enzymes, and secreting hormones
• Helps control blood pressure

• Balances body fluids
• Essential for digestion

• Enhances activity of insulin
• Helps maintain blood glucose (sugar) levels

• Helps make red blood cells
• Needed for iron metabolism
• Supports immune system health

• Needed for bone formation
• Helps keep dental cavities from forming or worsening

• Helps thyroid functioning
• Supports nerve and muscle health

• Needed for chemical reactions in the body
• Helps form red blood cells
• Plays a role in moving oxygen throughout the body

• Needed for many chemical reactions in the body
• Builds bones and teeth
• Necessary for muscle contraction, blood clotting, and regulation of blood pressure

• Helps form bones
• Needed for metabolism of amino acids, cholesterol, and carbohydrates

• Is part of several important enzymes

• Converts food to energy
• Helps build and protect teeth and bones

• Balances body fluids
• Maintains steady heartbeat, nerve impulses, and muscle contraction

• Acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing molecules that can damage cells
• Helps regulate thyroid hormone activity

• Balances body fluids
• Needed for muscle contractions
• Influences blood pressure

• Stabilizes proteins
• Needed for healthy hair, skin, nails

• Needed for creating new cells and the formation of enzymes and proteins
• Plays a role in immune system health, taste, smell, wound healing
• When taken with antioxidants, it may delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration

How much is enough?

The amount of vitamins and minerals a person needs depends on a number of factors including the person’s age, general health, eating habits and, if the person is a woman, if she is pregnant or breastfeeding. A healthcare provider is in the best position to help you decide if you are getting all of the nutrients you need from your diet. If a supplement would be right for you, your London Drugs pharmacists can help you select the one that best meets your personal needs.


The best way to get the vitamins and minerals we need is to follow Canada’s Food Guide and eat a variety of healthy foods, but we don’t always do that. And sometimes even eating a healthy diet doesn’t provide all of the nutrition we need. A supplement can help fill in the gaps. If you are short of only one or two nutrients, you may only need a supplement that provides a specific vitamin or mineral; however, if you aren’t getting enough of a number of nutrients, a multivitamin and mineral supplement might be right for you. Vitamin and mineral supplements are available in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, gel caps, gummies, and liquids. The supplement that is best for you will depend on how it works in the body and how you prefer to take it. For example, some work best in dry form, making a tablet or capsule the best dosage form; others work faster when taken as a liquid. If you have difficulty swallowing pills or capsules, you may prefer a liquid or chewable form. If you need help, your London Drugs pharmacist can advise you on what vitamins and minerals you may need and which dosage forms will work best for you.

Natural health products

Natural health products are substances that occur naturally and are used to maintain or restore good health. They may be derived from plants, animals, or microorganisms. While natural products are generally considered safe and have few side effects, they are not risk-free. It is important to remember that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe.” The chances of having a negative reaction to a natural health product increase when you combine supplements or use them along with medicines (prescription or over-the-counter), nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol. Talk with a healthcare professional before deciding to use a natural health supplement. This is particularly important for children, seniors, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and people with serious medical conditions.

Baby Feeding and Nutrition Facebook Live Event with Carley Mendes and Beaba

Introducing solid foods to your little one should be a fun and exciting adventure, but there are often many questions on how and when to take this step. By the time baby is ready for solid food, new parents have already researched so many other things…. strollers, car seats, sleep!

Earlier this month I partnered with London Drugs and Beaba to host a Facebook Live event and answer viewers questions about first foods for baby. I’m a holistic nutritionist and founder of Oh Baby Nutrition. I specialize in naturally nourishing pregnancy, postpartum, and starting solids with your baby. I love talking about feeding babies because you have such an amazing opportunity to help little ones establish healthy eating habits right from the beginning.

We covered quite a bit of important information in the Facebook event, such as…

When to start solids

During the event, I recommended to introduce first foods when baby is around 6 months, but also waiting until a few key developmental milestones have been met. Specifically that your baby can sit up unassisted, has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (does not automatically push solids out of their mouth with their tongue), and is ready and willing to chew.

Different methods of introducing solids

The two primary methods of introduction are spoon-feeding purees vs baby-led weaning. With baby-led weaning, you skip the purees and start with finger foods right away.  These two methods do not have to be done exclusively and you can try a mix of both feeding styles with your little one. I’ve created a comprehensive guide to starting solids called Baby Knows Best that helps parents make an educated decision about the method that feels right for them and their babies. The Beaba Babycook that was featured in our Facebook event cooks both purees and finger foods.

Finger foods: shape, size & texture

Whether starting with finger foods or introducing them after purees, it’s critical to understand the proper shape, size & texture for safety.  Stick or finger shaped foods allows your baby to firmly hold the food in the palm of their hand and bite off little pieces, with or without teeth. It helps them learn how to chew, and learn how much food they can safely manage in their mouths. I’ve written more extensively about this here.

Best flavors to offer baby: sweet vs savoury

Parents are often concerned that offering sweet before savoury will cause babies to develop a sweet tooth. However, humans are naturally drawn to sweet flavours because in nature they represent energy dense, safe foods that are less likely to carry foodborne illness. Plus, breast milk (formula) is very sweet so they already have a taste for it. Initial introduction isn’t as important as making sure to include a variety of flavours in baby’s diet once they’ve started solids. Offering variety in a baby’s diet is also the best ways to avoid picky eating habits in toddlers.

How much food to feed baby

Each baby is different and the age at which they’ll be ready for more food will vary.  So it’s recommended to watch your baby’s cues and follow their lead. Its best not to rush into things and only offer 1 serving a day for the first month or so, then build slowly from there.


We also had some fantastic questions from viewers of our Facebook Live event, such as…


When you start to introduce solids does it take the place of a nursing feed?

When solid food is initially introduced, servings will be tiny and baby’s intake of breast milk should remain the same. As food intake slowly increases over time, breast milk consumption will naturally decrease and mother’s supply will adapt to the lessened demand. This exchange of breast milk for food should happen very gradually.


What would you recommend as a good first food to start your baby on?

I prefer fresh foods over packaged foods, and nutrient-dense foods over fortified foods. Some important nutrients for babies are iron, calcium, and DHA. In my guide to starting solids, I list all of my favorite foods, along with recipes and meal plans for various ages.


Is it ok to start babies on a full variety of mixed food from the very start or should you start with individual foods and then combine once we are sure they are ok to eat?

It was previously recommended to introduce new foods one at a time, waiting a few days between. However this advice has changed and now only applies to highly allergenic foods, such as cow’s milk, hen’s eggs, soy, wheat, nuts, sesame, shellfish and fish.


I have a very, very big baby so is it better to add water as opposed to breast milk to my baby food?

Breast milk is the most nutrient-dense sustenance for babies, so it’s not recommended to limit intake. However feel free to mix up the liquid you use to make purees, such as the water used to steam baby food, bone broth, coconut water, or even non-medicinal herbal tea.

My baby is 8 months (I started solids at 6 months) and he still does not seem very interested in food. Is this uncommon?

Some babies take to solids right away, but it can definitely take others some time to show an interest.  Let your baby lead the way and set the pace. It’s best not to try enticing them to consume more than they’re inclined too, so they can preserve their innate ability to self-regulate their appetite. However, I suggest talking with your health care provider if your baby isn’t taking to solids and is also exhibiting other developmental delays.

Is your little one ready to begin the adventure of first foods? My guide, Baby Knows Best includes a 4-part video series and 4 part-eBook series that will show you exactly how and when to take this exciting step. Baby Knows Best will answer all of your questions, eliminate your doubts, and allow you to start solids with confidence.


Carley Mendes, Holistic Nutritionist

Oh Baby Nutrition (
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5 Wellness Trends to Watch (and do!) in 2016

For those who are resolving to make their health a priority in 2016, there are a wide variety of new trends plus a host of tried-and-true healthy behaviors that can help keep motivation high and goals on track.

London Drugs Pharmacist, Jason Chan-Remillard, points out some of the top wellness trends for 2016 and offers some tips for adopting healthy behaviors in the New Year.

1. Advanced Wearable Health Technologies


Wearable tech is everywhere right now and will gain even more traction in 2016 with new features and functionality. Everything from fitness trackers to smart watches and even heart rate monitors are being used to analyze physical wellness.

“These devices are changing the way we plan and manage our workouts, monitor our health and can help motivate us to achieve our wellness goals,” says Chan-Remillard.

London Drugs sees wearable tech as such a critical component of health that they specifically trained their Patient Care Pharmacists on wearable tech options and began hosting Health Tech demo days for customers in their stores. Pharmacists also lead by example in this area, wearing the Fitbit HR during London Drugs’ Nutrition & Healthy Weight Clinics.

“Understanding wearable technology helps us promote wellness. It is now an integrated component of monitoring health and it is a technology we know helps many of our patients,” says Chan-Remillard.

Fitbit earned the spot as the top app in the App Store over Christmas. The newest Fitbit, Fitbit Surge, can not only count steps, but also tracks pace, distance, elevation climbed, heart rate, calories burned and is even able to sync to the Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Scale.

Other wearable tech products like iHealth track blood pressure.

“This is an important advancement because things like high blood pressure aren’t easily-detected, but if left untreated, over time can increase your risk of stroke and heart attack,” says Chan-Remillard.


Getting to Know the “Forgotten Organ” in Your Body

You are made of approximately 10 trillion body cells. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, your body is host to many trillions of microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts, viruses and fungi. These live all over and in your body, with a large contingent found in your “gut,” also known as the gastrointestinal system. The gut runs a complex path from the mouth to the esophagus, stomach, small then large intestine, and finally the rectum and anus. The roughly 100 trillion microorganisms that inhabit the gut (mostly in the large intestine) exist “symbiotically” with humans. This means we provide them with a place to live and they help us digest certain foods, help provide a balance against unhealthy microorganisms, create vitamins K and biotin, and perhaps, even help regulate our body weight. These trillions of organisms can even be considered an essential organ in the body, as important as any other.

You may already be aware that bacteria digest foods we don’t break down well. Beans are indeed a “musical fruit” as gut bacteria process the stachyose (a natural sugar) that was not digested by the human gut. In fact, this sugar and other carbohydrates such as fiber, are important foods for your gut bacteria. The addition of “prebiotics” to foods such as yogurt and bread is intended to support the growth of these bacteria.

A common prebiotic is the fibre “inulin.” You will find this in Kashi granola bars and some flavours of Nature’s Path cereal, available at London Drugs.

You may also have heard how important the balance of “good” to “bad” microbes is. Indeed, of the trillions of organisms in our bodies, not all are beneficial for us. A good example is Clostridium difficile. This bacteria is fairly widespread in nature but only causes problems under certain circumstances, such as, for example, when you take an antibiotic to treat an infection. In this case, the drug destroys some of the normal, helpful bacteria as well as the bacteria causing the illness. Without enough healthy bacteria, C. difficile can grow out of control. For this and other reasons, it is very important not to overuse antibiotics.

Bacteria also help with our nutrition. One example of this is vitamin K. This vitamin is required for normal blood clotting. Foods, such as leafy green vegetables, provide about half the vitamin K required for healthy adults while gut bacteria (good old E. coli) produce the rest. Interestingly, newborns lack the bacteria in their intestines to produce vitamin K so they are usually given vitamin K supplements, either as a shot or by mouth, before discharge from the hospital.

The idea that weight could be affected by gut microbes, particularly bacteria, has been gaining traction in recent years. Studies have been done on mice and on humans, and while there are no absolutes yet, it appears that leaner mice and people have different types of gut bacteria as well as a more diverse population- that is, more types of bacteria. And at least one study suggests that a high fiber, low fat diet is more supportive of microbes that promote a healthy body weight.

The Human Microbiome Project (HMP), sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, was established in 2008, with the mission of defining our microbial community and analyzing its role in human health and disease. This project is made possible with the help of thousands of volunteers who send in samples from their skin, mouth, feces and other sites. At least 10,000 different microbes have been identified. As the research proceeds, it will be possible to better understand which microbes are most useful for human health and perhaps how to help them flourish in our systems.

Stay tuned for more exciting developments about the “forgotten organ.” Anticipate a future where we think about our health and the health of trillions of our closest friends.

Barbara Allan RD

Registered Dietitian
Certified Diabetes Educator